This Is Not A Drill

this is not a drillThese days, daughter is much more clued up about the latest ‘must read’ books on green issues than I am. So this book, subtitled An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, was kindly left for me to read. And an incredible book it is, outlining the thinking and practicalities behind the recent phenomenon of Extinction Rebellion.

The premise is that we can no longer continue to ignore the issue of climate breakdown, as argued so many times in this blog. So we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’, which has been the response to pretty well all climate change protests and initiatives so far. The first part of the book presents evidence of climate breakdown and its consequences from all over the world – you can be in no doubt that change is needed after reading this. This leads to the conclusion that the needed system change will only come about though some sort of non-violent revolution/rebellion, whereby the status quo is disrupted sufficiently to evoke and force through the necessary changes. And non-violent it must be, enabling peaceful and democratic change; violence always begets more violence and leaves the wrong sort of people in control of societies.

It is a handbook, in that it outlines the approach that was taken recently in the London protests, and the experience of many of the protestors. It really was a quite incredible operation.

This is needed to evoke the necessary economic and political change needed for continuation of human societies on the planet in a form that is a recognisable continuation of today’s societies. Otherwise, the status quo is driving us towards increasing disasters, wars and breakdown of societies and ecosystems.

Yes, this book outlines a vital aspect of the needed New Renaissance of humanity. It is not the whole story, but a vital part of it, comparable to that played by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their struggles for justice.

Read This Is Not A Drill, and you might even be inspired to become an essential part of the necessary change that is ever more pressing.

 

 

Mainstream Environment?

I’d guess it was the 1980s when I really became aware of environmental issues, including fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, including pollution of the air in cities, including degrading of farmland by intensive farming, including the effects of pesticides on the natural world. For so long, those 40 years since, the mainstream media have largely ignored these issues, or reported them as the concern of ‘environmentalists’, neatly compartmentalized away from the mainstream.

So I’ve had a strange sense of cognitive dissonance this past week or so as these issues are being discussed on the mainstream bulletins of the BBC, that bastion of UK establishment thinking. Of course, this is a reaction to the success of Extinction Rebellion in highlighting just how urgent now is the situation on global warming/ climate change and species loss (as well as to the success of Netflix in pinching David Attenborough and allowing him his full environmental voice). It really is a planetary emergency with little time left to effectively act.

The worry is that this is just to fill in the air time left by a government and parliament doing nothing but obsess about Brexit. There is no other legislation, no ‘queen’s speech’. The broadcasters must be sick of reiterating the minutiae of customs union, the withdrawal agreement, the splits in the two main parties and on and on.

But we have to be optimistic and suppose that
(a) something will eventually be sorted on Brexit and then
(b) this time legislators are accepting of the urgency and will eventually set out a programme that will at least partially address the climate/fossil fuel issue, encouraging people and business in the right direction. That is their job.
Difficult for a Conservative government that has spent 4 years rolling back the little environmental progress they allowed the Liberal Democrats to make in the coalition government of 2010.

The big question at the moment: Is Environment Secretary Michael Gove up to the job? He appears to understand the issues, but can he persuade the government to act and explain to the public what they are doing and why, and anyway will he still be there when prime minister Theresa May goes (ie soon)?

My optimism is somewhat subdued!

 

The glass IS half full

glass half fullIt is a well known characterisation that optimists see a glass 50% full of liquid as ‘half full’, whereas pessimist see it as ‘half empty’. Does it matter which of these attitudes we take towards life and towards its mega problems such as climate change and Brexit?

The bulk of psychological evidence suggests that it does. Optimists tend to be more realistic and thus more effective at addressing the problems. Pessimists tend to expect the worst, not look at things too closely, and hide from difficulties – hence the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Life is all about change, so an optimistic outlook is the only one that enables us to face and deal with the realities of change.

Of course, there are limitations to being positive if it is not tempered with a grounding in reality. (The Brexit campaign comes to mind!)¬† I’m arguing against myself, but maybe we should see optimism-pessimism as a polarity that is only resolved through the ‘third pole’ of realism.

I suggest that we will only find a way through climate change and Brexit will be with an optimistic reality-based attitude. There are so many brains on the problems we will find a way through.

The glass really is half full!

The idea for this post came while reading
Professor Tom Lombardo’s book¬†Future Consciousness.

Image by S nova via Wikimedia Commons.

In the groove

Human societies get so stuck in a collective mental groove, like a railroad track, that they cannot see a way out of the predicaments caused by being in that groove. Take ‘jobs’. As automation gradually replaces many of the jobs that make society work today, we worry about where the future jobs are going to come from. For instance, what are all those lorry/taxi/delivery drivers going to do to earn a living when transport is automated? How are we going to generate enough taxes to adequately provision the public sphere and feed those who don’t have jobs?

The only answer is to get out of the groove.

  • Why do we need a 5-day-week job, why not 4 or 3 days?
  • Why does everybody have to have a ‘job’?
  • Why not a basic income for everyone that provides for minimal subsistence?
  • Why do countries across the world need to compete economically, and thus drive down standards of living for everyone, can they not co-operate?
  • Why is money created to the benefit of banks, not of people or of governance?
  • Why can’t we have a more equal distribution of wealth?

The answers lie in the human imagination. History suggests that crisis precedes the inevitable change. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are enough intelligent people on the planet, but many vested interests that do not want things to change…

The same is of course true about other issues, such as climate breakdown and its consequent travails. The forward scouts (scientists) have long told us the bridge is down on the track ahead, and the train will go over into the ravine if we stay on this track. We just need the imagination to change track.

Featured image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History – via Wikimedia Commons


The Hidden Life of Trees

hidden life of treesPeter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees is one of those books that change the way you look at things – the world of trees and forests in particular.

Starting off as a conventional forester, he gradually became aware of the real life that was going on around him, rather than just seeing the trees as objects to be managed.

Trees are complex organisms that live in families, nurture each other, respond to their environment, live in symbiosis with other beings, have a circulation and a food system, move in response to environmental change – indeed they are complex social organisms just as we are. It’s just that their timescales are different – much more extended than ours, just as our timescales are much more extended than those of the mayfly.

The timescale for forests and their tree families measures in the hundreds and thousands of years. When we destroy an ancient forest, we are destroying an ecosystem that has taken many hundreds of years to establish. Most ancient forest in Europe is already destroyed through man’s ignorance, so it is imperative to retain those that remain – they are literally irreplaceable. New planting starts a new process of building up an ecosystem, but who knows if the insects, microorganisms and fungi (let alone the fauna) will ever re-establish themselves.

Wohlleben explains how forests act as a water pump, creating the clouds that give rain to landlocked interiors of continents. Without trees there would be far more desert.

Forests have a calming effect on weather, soak up heavy rains avoiding flooding, absorb masses of carbon dioxide (particularly the older trees), provide the environment for massive biodiversity… There are so many benefits.

And then there are the benefits of simply walking in the forest. Most of us have experienced its wonderful calming effect at some point. I guess that’s because at some level we can sense the majestic life in these great beings.

As more and more virgin forests across the world are destroyed by commercial interests, such as for growing palm oil or animal food, the loss and potential dangers are surely clear. Climate change demands that we need more forest cover, not less, to help alleviate the increase in CO2 and its effects.

The book contains a lot more insights than my brief comments suggest. Do read it. Superb!

Disasters

I wrote this post a while ago, but didn’t publish it because it seemed too negative. But then again it is facing the truth, they are coming thick and fast…

Disasters are in the nature of things. Life is evolution and change. Galaxies collide, solar systems merge, orbiting objects crash into each other, storms and subterranean events cause cataclysmic events on planets. So however stable things might seem, it is inevitable that disasters will occur.

california wildfire
Wildfire, Ventura, California, December 2017, NY Times

So is it any surprise that disasters are also caused by human beings. However, we do seem to be particularly good at creating the conditions for them, e.g. we:

  • invest in new sources of fossil fuels that we know are not sustainable, thereby exacerbating the global warming we know is happening – and continue to prevaricate on taking effective action to minimise and mitigate its effects.
  • degrade our soil and food with chemical-based farming, when biological and organic methods are the only sustainable way.
  • base our economic system solely on growth, regardless of the quality of that growth and its ecological non-sustainability.
  • propagate increasing inequalities that history tells us are not sustainable and result in conflict, yet refuse to contemplate alleviatory measures, such as taxes on financial transactions, wealth and land.
  • elect those who base their campaigns around separation and collective illusions, such as making countries ‘great again’, standing above others.
  • fill our seas with plastic, to the extent that our food coming from the oceans includes increasing residues of it.
  • cut down forests to create more land to feed animals for food or grow more oil, thereby removing the planet’s lungs (analogy).
  • globalise everything such that (with climate change) diversity of species is drastically reduced.
  • invest in escalation of arms including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that no sane person would wish to see ever used.

The entrenched status quo appears to be manipulated by the main beneficiaries (the rich and powerful) such that any rapid change of direction is not possible.Read More »

Insectageddon

With great eloquence, George Monbiot pursues the theme of loss of insects covered in my previous post) and puts it in context with other ongoing global disasters, such as depletion/ acidification of soil/ seas, and climate change. His piece in The Guardian is well worth reading.

Our natural world is under unprecedented attack by the huge number of people seeking a lifestyle it cannot support – unprecedented except for great natural disasters such as large meteorite hits. The situation cries out for action at all levels – personal, business, corporation, local, regional, national, super-regional, continental, global. Yet we seem to be stymied by current vested interests and our own boiling-frog-like inertia.

Brexit is in a sense totally irrelevant to these problems, although we could use it to drive rapid change in the right direction in the UK. But don’t hold your breath if you keep voting the Tories into power – their radical wing appear to have nothing to offer this situation.

Featured bee image by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA – Apis mellifera, via Wikimedia Commons

Houston and Harvey

Having family in Houston, the recent hurricane Harvey has been rather on my mind of late. There are two main lessons from this experience, an experience shared across much of the globe.

Global Warming

Of course, climate change and global warming did not cause Harvey – there have been major hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico for many decades.

But it is clear that the raised level of temperatures in the Gulf and ocean waters, caused by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, will have increased the severity of the effects of Harvey. It didn’t have to be as bad as it turned out.

If action is not taken on the lines of the Paris agreement, which itself did not make change fast enough to avoid severe consequences, future hurricanes in Texas will descend with increasing fire and fury on oil state Texas and its neighbours. The havoc caused so far by the current hurricane Irma, approaching Florida, gives a hint of the disasters to come.

Supercharged Capitalism

Houston was a star of unalloyed capitalism, the oil capital, minimal planning regulations, cheap housing, rapid expansion of population, apparently a great place to live.

But within that apparent success lay the seeds of disaster. New industrial and housing developments gave minimal consideration to the increasing demands put on old drainage systems, and the need to retain flood plains. Flood defences such as the Barker and Addicks dams were not kept adequately up to date. There was a lack of zoning of industry and housing, so minimal consideration of pollution effects on people living close by petrochemical works… It all seemed like the free market right winger’s wet dream! Harvey exposed this toxic mix as totally inadequate for a city in Hurricane Alley.

The City of Houston, the US and the world need to step back and get a grip on a more sensible way to manage human affairs, before we become submerged in a never ending chain of disasters. Supercharged capitalism is at best unintelligent.

The featured image apparently shows a waterway, which is a recently taken photo of the flooded Beltway, a major Houston artery. Things are far from being back to normal.

 

Small Skipper

Just near the mint moth, there was a similarly sized butterfly on the Buddleia, which turned out to be a Small Skipper. These are so small that you don’t tend to take as much notice as with the larger butterflies, but they are also attractive with beautifully veined wings, furry body and striped antennae.

small skipper
Small Skipper

According to Butterfly Conservation, the Small Skipper is increasingly seen in the north of England, probably due to the warming climate. Also, it likes long grass, so it may be no coincidence that we have left a wild patch and shaggy edges in the lawn this summer – supporting the view that shaggy gardens encourage wildlife!

The photos were the best I could manage with my Panasonic TZ80 in macro mode.

Great Auk

great aukThe story of the Great Auk is well told by The Smithsonian.

Essentially this was a very large bird that lived in great profusion in three islands of the north Atlantic, one near Newfoundland, and two near Iceland. A bit like a penguin or a huge puffin.

When explorers got to these places they were ‘easy meat’ – easily caught and providing a good food source for hungry sailors.

Not only that, their feathers became prized as an alternative to those of the Eider duck. People used to go to stay on the islands just to pluck their feathers, after which the birds died.

By 1775 the possibility of extinction was apparent and the British parliament legislated to ban killing of Great Auks, but there were loopholes.

The American population died out first, then an eruption destroyed the larger of the Icelandic islands. The birds became very scarce, an unsavoury collector’s dream. The last two birds were killed on the smaller island, Eldey, by trophy hunters in 1844, who trod on their egg.

A salutary lesson when we consider how to protect today’s endangered species in a far less amenable environment where there are far more human beings and climate change is occurring at the same time. They can only be saved if we get very serious about it.

Inspired by Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, which contains a fuller description of the history.

Image is the only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life. By Ole Worm – Olaus Wormius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What happened to politics?

Why are people in US/Europe fed up with current politicians and moving towards more intolerant/right wing positions (Trump, Brexit, French FN,…) or, to more extreme left wing positions (Corbyn, Sanders, Podemos, Syriza,…)?

A simplistic answer is that everyone in these countries is no longer sharing in the good life. The rich have got a lot richer, the poor have got a lot poorer. The banks crashed the system but largely got away with it, leaving most of us poorer. So there’s more to bitch about.

Globalisation has spread the good life around, but more for ‘them’ than for ‘us’. We just see the bad side of this, as the chickens come home to roost – from various foreign adventures in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, now Syria, etc – from the effects of climate change where globalisation has pressed the accelerator pedal – from population movements that have inevitably resulted.

And the big issues are not being addressed, in some degree due to the corporate stranglehold on change, particularly apparent in the US and apparently being rolled out across the world in varous ‘trade agreements’. Which big issues? Here’s a good starter list: refugees/immigration, climate change, failing debt-based money system, tax havens, unreasonable levels of inequality.

Our politicians are apparently unable to address these issues in any meaningful way. Perhaps because of their powerlessness, they appear to come from a position of denial that they are the big issues. From the top, they appear to be more concerned with winning the next election than doing ‘the right thing’ – see the current ‘Brexit’ referendum, a successful wheeze to win the last election for the Conservatives.

Many of the issues require coordinated action at continental or world level, so there are always excuses as to why nothing is done. The national identity politics of the right simply retreats from even trying to coordinate at these higher levels.

Jo_Cox_MP_MemorialNow most politicians probably start out with the very best of intentions. The recently assassinated Jo Cox was a fine example. Somewhere along the way, is the fire in their bellies quenched by the compromises of power and the seeking of it? I am not qualified to answer, but I would like to see more Jo Coxes with the honesty, directness and fire to get on with what is right for their people.

Image by Garry Kinight [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons